12 February 2008

The Changing Face of Optometry

My first two months as President of the Maryland Optometric Association have been very busy and exciting. We have had the annual convention in December 2007 during the Army-Navy game, a trip to the AOA Washington office & Capitol Hill, and a young OD event at the ESPN Zone in the Baltimore Inner Harbor. On January 9, 2008 I took Amtrak to New York for our Optometric Center of New York Executive Board meeting at the SUNY State College of Optometry as I have done many times. I have been on the Board for about 5 years and it has been a great experience keeping me in touch with optometric education, and our changing profession. The Optometric Center of New York was started as a clinic in Manhattan in 1956 by an act of then New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, after Columbia University closed their Optometry program. The founding and now past President of SUNY-Optometry Dr. Norman Haffner was recruited to be the second and first true executive director of the OCNY while he was becoming the first optometrist to be a commissioned officer in the armed services. Dr. Haffner searched for years to find an opportunity to start an Optometry College in New York State with little success. Then prior to the 1971 opening of SUNY-Optometry, Nelson Rockefeller purchased with his own money 63 colleges in New York state, and Dr. Haffner founded the 64th college in the SUNY system, the SUNY State College of Optometry. The SUNY system is currently the largest University system in the world. Today the OCNY Board serves as a Foundation that is the funding arm of the SUNY College of Optometry. As I read the minutes from our last meeting on the train, I reflected on my years in the profession of Optometry and my years living in New York which I consider my second home. If you would like to read about my history of moving to New York in the mid 1980's you can visit my Georgetown University Hoya Hoop Club Blog from the 2007 Big East Tournament here: http://guhoyas.cstv.com/genrel/030507aab.html

My first few weeks in New York were very hurried as I adapted to life in "The City." As the legend says true New Yorkers may move away to other states like Florida, but in the end they always return to NYC which is composed of the 5 boroughs of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx. However, it is the borough of Manhattan that New Yorkers refer to when they refer to going into "The City." To New Yorkers this is the only city. It makes me think of our Maryland Board meetings when people tell me that Baltimoreans don't like to leave Baltimore, and in the Washington, D.C. area where we refer to the world ending outside of the outer loop of the Capital Beltway. I do remember my first week of Optometry School, meeting Tom Hanks as he was filming the movie "Big" on 23rd Street outside the Hasbro Building. It is now a Home Depot. SUNY-O was on 24th Street and Park Avenue across from the New York Life, Metropolitan Life Building, near the Flatiron Building and Madison Square Park. The park was mostly deserted at that time. Today at the 42nd Street building we are across from the newly rebuilt Bryant Park. I was amazed to see a beautiful skating rink in Bryant Park. The school is in a much nicer area today.

Back in the late 1980's the school was set up along a departmental system where you had separate departments on different floors, e.g Primary Care, Vision Therapy, Contact Lenses, Low Vision, Ocular Pathology, and Infant Vision. If you were seen in Primary Care you then needed to be referred or given an appointment in other departments like Contact Lenses, or Ocular Pathology. Other schools like PCO had utilized a modular system where you were seen in a certain module and everything was taken care of their. Today SUNY has moved to hybrid model where most things are handled in your module but the separate departments on different floors still exist for specialty care. The advantages to the older departmental system is that you could have true specialty care, more specialized teaching, and you could attract many part-time faculty with tremendous amounts of real world experience. The disadvantage was that it could be very bureaucratic, and inefficient. In the real world you would see an optometrist and have everything done in one place hence the modular system. The incorporation of modular aspects has been important to preparing students for the "real world."

As I see SUNY-Optometry over the years there are too many changes in the school and the profession for me to comment on in this blog. The major structural changes in the school are obviously the new building and location, the alumni lounge, the stadium seated classrooms and auditorium that are wired for laptops, internet, LCD projectors, etc. The new library system provides our students and alumni access to the library and journal resources through the internet. Our new President, David Heath, O.D. was the former Dean at NECO. He is instituting many aesthetic changes to the College throughout the building to project an improved image to visitors/patients, students, faculty, and alumni. We are looking to have a small art gallery in the front of the building, and changing the second floor to provide career placement, computer access, and state of the art continuing education for students and alumni. Student housing is still a long range project and presents a formidable financial challenge in New York.

Optometry and the entire ophthalmic industry has changed drastically also. Now students are well trained in the co-management of refractive surgery from the very beginning of their education. Contact lenses have greatly improved especially in the area of toric, and multifocal lenses. Silicone Hydrogel lenses have really changed the market recently. Twenty years ago, disposable contact lenses were relatively new to the market, and contact lenses represented the highest form of correction for refractive error. RK was being done with little success, and the excimer laser was in its early stages. Today, custom LASIK and other forms of refractive surgery are very commonplace and represent the state of the art for the correction of refractive error. There have been many technological advances in low vision as well as improvements in all areas of ocular pathology.

After the meeting I attended a New York Knick game vs Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets in Madison Square Garden where I have spent much of my life. It was great fun as usual, but the Knicks are no longer a playoff contender as they were during my Optometry School days when the Knicks were led by my former Hoya classmate, Patrick Ewing.

Since we were having such unusually warm weather, I decided to also take a walk in the city and be a tourist for the afternoon. I headed through Times Square, the Avenue of the Americas, and up 5th Avenue. I made my usual stops at Rockefeller Center, St. Patricks Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's Brooks Brothers, Tiffany's, and my favorite store FAO Shwartz. The famous toy store seen in Tom Hanks movie, "Big," looked like it had been hit by a tornado after Christmas. It still sold the famous sports cars, and stuffed animals. There was still a Star Wars area like in the 1980's. However, there were many new things like Harry Potter toys. I saw some of the young girls doing their dances on the giant piano as Tom Hanks did in the movie. As I exited FAO Shwartz to see the new Plaza Hotel I noticed a large glass enclosure with a large white apple. I took the elevator down below the ground and found a gigantic Apple-iPOD store. It was at least 5X larger than any other that I have ever seen. Steve Jobs had just announced his$3.99-$4.99 movies for his iPOD's. The next day I had dinner at Henry's End in Brooklyn Hts, and took the train home. As I reflected on the changes in Optometry and at the SUNY State College of Optometry my experience at the iPOD store made me reflect on how my life had become much more complicated. I used to laugh when I heard that some people were using two mobile phones. As I thought about what I had packed, I realized that I now always travel with 3 mobile phones including a blackberry, my laptop, a PSP, a digital camera, my satellite radio, and my iPOD. As I checked my work and home e-mail, I thought about how much more complicated life has become and how people have information overload. I anticipate the world will undergo just as many changes in my two years as President of the Maryland Optometric Association, as they have in the last 10 years. Hopefully, I will only need to carry one electronic device instead of what I carry today.

I hope that the new blog feature of the MOA Web site will give you better insight into Maryland Optometry and our state association. If you have any thoughts or suggestions please feel free to contact me. E-mail is usually the best way to reach me.

Hoya Saxa!

Thomas A. Wong, O.D.
SUNY College of Optometry '89
President Maryland Optometric Association
Optometric Center of New York Board of Trustees
Optometry Supervisor Kaiser Permanente Mid-Atlantic States
Vice-President Georgetown University Hoya Hoop Club
Georgetown University Board of Governors


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